‘Masters of Sex’ Season 1, Episode 3 Recap: “Standard Deviation”

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This was the flashback episode that probably should have come before now, to explain exactly who Masters is. Problem is, each of the flashbacks comes across as non-sequiturish. An eager young Dr. Masters lectures Beau Bridges on what kinds of things he longs to shine a light on and at what age he could get to studying sexuality. Beau Bridges advises: “If you want to lead an unconventional life, you gotta learn to hide in plain sight.” It’s a bit of a heavy-handed intro considering what we’re about to see.

Betty insists on her operation; Masters is, predictably, an over-the-top jerk at her, telling her not to come back to him when she’s pregnant. When Masters at last agrees to operate on her, he discovers that Betty’s repeated PID flareups have left her too scarred to be able to reverse her ligation effectively. Betty’s fiancé is Greg Grunberg, who will forever be Sean from Felicity to me, and he just thinks she’s being treated for appendicitis. Betty decides not to tell him the truth. “What about Helen?” says Johnson. “You wanna get somewhere, you hitch your wagon to a man,” Betty shrugs. And then she tells Johnson that she should use Masters being in love with her to an advantage.

At the brothel Masters and Johnson are conducting interviews. Masters is naturally phrasing them in the most idiotic scientific jargon you can imagine, in his special charisma-free way. Presented with the giant dildo flashlight thing named Ulysses, most of the women don’t manage to make themselves come. Says one prostitute, asked to explain what she does to pleasure herself, quips, “I take a Midol and watch General Electric theatre.” Johnson, naturally, rewrites them and gets better result, though mostly it’s one of the women confessing that her first sexual experience came from her uncle abusing her.

The brothel also, er, procures male subjects for the first time. It turns out that they’re gay, which Masters worries will skew the results too much. Though he does watch some gay sex first, I guess to be sure. Eventually, Masters ends up having to tell an overenthusiastic gay subject that he can’t use them. “Are you saying I’m a deviant?” the guys says. Answers Masters: “I’m saying you deviate.” As it turns out, this guy apparently had sex with Beau Bridges, and Masters in his typically kind of cartoon-villain was uses his knowledge of Bridges’ homosexuality to blackmail him into taking the study back into the hospital.

There is one new and potentially exciting-looking character: this episode maked the arrival of Lillian DePaul (Julianne Nicholson), a doctor from Cornell. Johnson gets to show her around, and tries to bond with her, which DePaul swiftly rebuffs with an imperious request for coffee. Johnson is still inspired by this woman making “a life on her own steam.” And resentful, on her behalf, when DePaul is seated with the secretaries.

Haas, meanwhile, has found himself a woman pregnant with quadruplets. He’s seeing his name in lights. But the press proves harder to control than he imagines; they refuse to keep to his schedule and send out his message. Eventually Masters decides to take over when it becomes clear the mother will need high risk surgery, and Beau Bridges hands it off. Haas seethes when Masters gets all the credit.

Johnson pays a visit to Masters’ wife while she’s being “treated” for her non-problem. Libby’s been reading medical studies and learned that with the condition Masters told her she has, she would have just an eight percent chance of getting pregnant. And somehow Johnson finds herself suddenly unable to keep things from Libby. This turns Libby into an Angry Betty Draper with a midcentury taste in furniture. Same hairstyle as Betty originally had, and everything. But she doesn’t actually punch Masters when he comes home and says, “God knows we all have our cross to bear.” But then, it turns out that the treatment worked, and Libby’s pregnant. All is kind of forgiven.

Cute line: “Technically,” says a triumphant Haas, “I’m the one who got his wife pregnant.”